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Urban Outfitters store in Pasadena, California
Urban Outfitters, Inc. ( ) is a publicly traded American company that owns and operates five retail brands: Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain and Leifsdottir, a luxury brand for Anthropologie.

Urban Outfitters originated as "The Free People's Store" in 1970 in Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, focusing on "funky" fashion and household products. Shortly thereafter the owner and now Chairman, Richard Hayne, changed the name to Urban Outfitters. The product line has evolved from vintage, bohemian, retro, ironically humorous, kitschy apparel and furniture to include luxury brands such as Diesel, True Religion, Betsey Johnson, and Seven for All Mankind.

Headquartered at the Philadelphia Navy Yardmarker, Urban Outfitters operates more than 140 locations in the United Statesmarker, Canadamarker, the Republic of Irelandmarker, Denmarkmarker, Swedenmarker, Germanymarker, Belgiummarker, and the United Kingdommarker.

On November 27th 2009, the firm drew the attention of the Swedish press for denying collective bargaining rights to employees at their Stockholm store by making all 48 workers redundant and re-hiring them through employment agency Academic Work.In response to the move, ombudsman Jimmy Ekman called for tougher laws to prevent other firms denying collective bargaining rights in this way.

Customer base and merchandise

Urban Outfitters store in San Francisco, California
Outfitters has been described as selling hip, kitschy, and ironic merchandise, for example, T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Jive Turkey" or "Atari". According to their website, Urban Outfitters' "established ability to understand our customers and connect with them on an emotional level is the reason for our success." The site says that "the reason for this success is that our brands... are both compelling and distinct. Each brand chooses a particular customer segment, and once chosen, sets out to create sustainable points of distinction with that segment" and that "the emphasis is on creativity. Our goal is to offer a product assortment and an environment so compelling and distinctive that the customer feels an empathetic connection to the brand and is persuaded to buy."

Urban outfitters seek to create "a differential shopping experience, which creates an emotional bond with the 18 to 30 year old target customer we serve." in 2009, it agreed to sell limited editions of Polaroid ONE600 instant cameras and Type 779 instant film in partnership with the Austrian entrepreneur Florian Kaps, who acquired the rights to manufacture 700 copies of the defunct product.

Awards

In 2007 Urban Outfitters received the National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the Urban Outfitters Corporate Office Campus located on the Philadelphia Naval Shipyardmarker. For the same campus, Urban Outfitters received the 2007 Global Award for Excellence from the Urban Land Institute. In March of 2008, to introduce its new Terrain brand, the company entered the Philadelphia Flower Show and won the Alfred M. Campbell Award, the Conservation Award, People’s Choice Award and Best in Show.

Product controversies

Urban Outfitters' products have been the subject of multiple controversies, particulary concerning religious and ethnic issues.

  • In 2003 the company released a Monopoly parody called Ghettopoly. The game was criticized as offensively racist by a local chapter of the NAACP and black clergy, among others. The creator of the game, David Chang, maintained the games are "a medium to bring together in laughter," adding, "If we can't laugh at ourselves... we'll continue to live in blame and bitterness."


  • Also in 2003, a T-shirt released with the phrase "Everyone Loves a Jewish Girl" surrounded by dollar signs was condemned, though the Anti-Defamation League welcomed the decision to discontinue the shirts, saying that it hoped "that this experience, combined with another recent controversy surrounding an Urban Outfitters product that reinforced stereotypes, has served to sensitize the company to the sensibilities of its customer base and all ethnic groups." The ADL later condemned them for other incidents of insensitivity.


  • The following year, in 2004 Jesus Dress Up, a game created by artist Normal Bob Smith, drew additional critical response. The company reportedly feedback of an estimated 250,000 emails. Urban Outfitters noted that the magnets, which had been their sixth most popular Christmas toy, were not intended to offend, but rather appeal to their customers' diversity. Urban Outfitters no longer markets the game.


  • In 2006, the retailer was criticized for offering sparkly handgun-shaped Christmas ornaments in its hometown of Philadelphia, a city that had seen over 1,700 shootings and over 300 gun-related murders for the year. After the murder of officer Charles Cassidy, the company announced on November 15, 2007 that it would no longer sell the gun-shaped ornament.


  • In 2007, complaints by Jewish groups over the company sales of keffiyehs (which had been marketed as "antiwar" scarves) led Urban Outfitters to stop carrying that item. Urban Outfitters issued a statement, "Due to the sensitive nature of this item, we will no longer offer it for sale. We apologize if we offended anyone, this was by no means our intention."


  • In May 2008, after concern in the Jewish community, Urban Outfitters discontinued a T-shirt that featured a Palestinian child holding an AK-47 over the word "Victimized". According to a company representative, "[W]e do not buy items to provoke controversy or to intentionally offend. We have pulled this item in all of our locations and will no longer be selling it online either."


  • Urban Outfitters and its founder Richard Hayne were criticized for pulling a pro-same sex marriage T-shirt. The company maintains the product was discontinued solely for poor sales performance.


References

  1. Philadelphia Weekly
  2. Corporate website
  3. Corporate website
  4. Karen von Hahn, "Mama, don't take my Polaroid away", Globe and Mail, page L3, September 5, 2009
  5. "Game's street theme upsets NAACP"St. Petersburg Times
  6. Paynter, Susan. "Fashion statement sends a hurtful message", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 28, 2004
  7. "ADL Welcomes Urban Outfitters' Decision to Discontinue Production of Offensive T-Shirt", Anti-Defamation League, January 9, 2004.
  8. "Urban Outfitters At It Again", Anti-Defamation League, March 15, 2006.
  9. "‘Dress-Up Jesus’ Creator Reacts to NBC 10 Story", NBC 10 Philadelphia
  10. Site quotes Washington Times
  11. Retailer under fire
  12. The Philadelphia Inquirer
  13. Urban Outfitters: Blog
  14. Kim, Kibum. "Where Some See Fashion, Others See Politics", The New York Times, February 11, 2007.
  15. "Iconic Palestinian headdress brings colourful clash to Beirut", Agence France-Presse, December 7, 2008.
  16. Kim, Kibum. "Where Some See Fashion, Others See Politics", The New York Times, February 11, 2007.
  17. Ramer, Alison Avigayil. "Fashion wars / U.S. store pulls 'pro-violence' Palestinian T-shirt", Haaretz, May 22, 2008.


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